Lately, I’ve been craving a lot of comfort foods. Warm soothers like oatmeal, grits, tea, hot chocolate, soup, and mac and cheese have become my go-to snacks and meals. I sense that I’m doing this in response to the fall weather. I live in Madison, WI and, while I’m used to it being chilly in October, it has been unseasonably frigid outside. In addition, I feel that I’m eating so many comfort foods because they offer me short-term relief from my mid-semester avalanche of personal stress.
Most people would probably agree with my hypotheses. The “comfort-food theory” has long been used to explain seasonal or situational food hankerings. The theory contends that when people experience change or stress in their lives, they tend to eat foods that are simple, familiar and reassuring. Conventional wisdom has led us to believe that comfort foods are always rich and savory guilty pleasures, such as potato chips, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches or ice cream. However, a recent study from The University of South Carolina found that people also find comfort in foods that are light and healthy.
I think that the latter craving struck me the other night. I was feeling wired, and all I wanted to do was curl up on my couch with a bowl of macaroni and cheese. Still, I wanted something more nutritious and nourishing than the Easy Mac I had in my cabinet. I decided to take a stab at Rachel Ray’s dish, spinach and artichoke macaroni. Rachel’s recipe screams decadence (whole milk! cheese! butter! wine!), so I lightened thing up (and also cut my work load in half) by incorporating some low-fat and heart-healthy substitutes. I have to say, the results were pretty tasty and an excellent break from the norm.
Spinach & Artichoke Macaroni
*1 box (13.25 oz) of Barilla whole grain macaroni shells
*1 jar (15 oz) of Ragu low-fat Alfredo sauce
*1 can (14 oz) of artichoke hearts, drained (note: it helps if you quarter the hearts)
*3 cups of fresh spinach, washed and chopped
*¼ cup of grated Parmesan cheese.
*Nonstick cooking spray
*Garlic powder and crushed red pepper (optional)
1) Place a large pot of water over high heat. When the water is boiling, salt it well and add the pasta. Cook according to package directions.
2) While the pasta is cooking, place a frying pan or wok (covered with the nonstick cooking spray) over medium-low. Add the spinach and artichoke hearts to the pan and saute for 3 minutes. Add garlic to taste. saute for another 3 minutes.
3) When the pasta is done cooking, drain the water from the pot. Using the same pot, add the pasta, Alfredo sauce, spinach and artichokes, and Parmesan cheese. Mix everything together well. Return to the pot to the burner and simmer on low for about 5-6 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add red pepper to taste.
I paired the spinach and artichoke macaroni with some leftover chicken, however, it doesn’t always have to be a side dish. It’s hearty enough to serve as a meal. Enjoy!